Last week, Asif Saeed Khosa, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, decided an appeal against acquittal in a murder case after about 13 years.
Intizar was charged for killing Hafeezur Rehman in Karachi in 2005. The trial court sentenced him to death, while the Sindh High Court, deciding his appeal, acquitted him. The complainant party challenged the decision before the Supreme Court.
This case is not the only one in Pakistan’s judicial history. In 2017, the SC acquitted a number of accused in different cases which were pending for the past several years. “Who should be held accountable for keeping an innocent person in jail for 17 years?” lamented Justice Khosa in the court in a separate case, highlighting drawbacks of the existing criminal justice system of Pakistan with a huge backlog of cases.
The issues include slow proceedings of the cases and appeals amid delays in overburdened courts — the lower as well as apex court. This pendency has become a serious issue, raising questions on the existing criminal justice system and the performance of judiciary.
A latest statement disclosing pendency and disposal of cases during the first month of January 2018 in the Supreme Court, High Courts, Federal Shariah and district courts shows a total backlog of 1.857 million (1,857,340) cases till January 31, 2018.
The courts disposed of 319,126 cases while 305,463 new cases were added to the backlog which was 1,870,312. This shows that the delay in disposal of cases is further complicated by the addition of new cases.
According to the official fact sheet of Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), total pendency of SC by January 2018 was 38,716 cases while 1,564 cases were added up this month and courts decided 2,147 cases. Total pendency, after adding new cases, remained 38,143 by the end of January.
The number of sitting judges in the Supreme Court is 16, including the chief justice while it’s sanctioned 17. 298,142 cases have been pending in five high courts with 19,907 new cases and 16,305 disposed of in January 2018.
While there have been 1,520,485 cases pending in the country’s district courts with 283,971 new cases and 300,656 disposed of cases in January 2018. The total number of judges in country’s district courts is 3804. Out of total cases in districts courts, more than 1.16 million cases are only in the Punjab province against 2405 judges.
“First of all, we have to have the will to resolve this complex issue of huge pendency,” says Shah Khawar, former judge of the high court. “The backlog is almost the same in criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, we see district courts are not deciding the matters which later come before the high court and the Supreme Court.”
Khawar suggests that the SC in its judgments should bind lower courts to decide the matters in their jurisdiction. Moreover, he says, “prolonged civil cases are also in a very large number and because of lack of reforms we are adopting the old British law to resolve such matters.” He urges for promoting an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
To deal with this backlog he urges the authorities to appoint additional judges at all levels. “We also need reforms in our criminal procedural Code, Law of evidence, and Relief Act, etc. We should deal with this issue by evolving a collective strategy with the help of the government, the judiciary, the police, prosecution departments, present and former officers and all other stakeholders to discuss criminal justice system reforms.”
“Primarily, old and obsolete procedures of trial, lack of law reforms, lack of training of lower judiciary, corruption and incompetence in the criminal justice system are some of the key reasons of delay in justice,” says Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, former president of Supreme Court Bar Association. “Add to this non-professional attitude of judges, and mainly, lawyers in dealing with the case and sanctioning/seeking delays, non-use of advances technology like video-trial, and absence of proper monitoring and supervisory of trial courts.”
Addressing in Karachi, Chief Justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar, expressed his concern in this regard a couple of weeks ago. He urged the high court judges to dispose of cases within three months. He said the judiciary can’t be blamed for delay in the dispensation of justice and people can’t get speedy justice until the centuries-old laws are updated and amended by parliament.
Expeditious justice is a fundamental right of every citizen under Article 9 and a fundamental responsibility of the state under Article 37(d) of the Constitution.
“People who have experience with the judicial system fully understand the destructive and corrosive effects of justice delivered after many years of delay,” says Faisal Siddiqi, a Karachi-based lawyer.” If a state or system cannot deliver expeditious justice, it is a failure of its constitutional obligations,” he maintains.
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“An indigenous management strategy regarding case pendency, a general increase in the number of judges in all courts, targeting public priority in dealing with pendency, simplification of the law relating to case procedure, especially the law of evidence and reform of the appeals process, with the help of legislature; and setting up a judicial commission on the issue of delayed justice are some of the solutions we need to improve speed of justice,” he concludes.